Why Do Brits Hate Physical Contact With Strangers?

The science of air kissing

As intrigued as we are to know the real motivation behind scientists at Oxford University deciding to conduct the biggest study ever into physical contact, we have put that to one side to focus on the results, which reveal that most of us hate being touched by a stranger anywhere but on our hands.


Evolutionary psychologist Professor Robin Dunbar, led the study and had a lot to say about air kissing:


“Most people will put their hand on the arm of the person [they are kissing] as a braking mechanism and to let the other person known that they are not about to chomp them,” he interestingly observed, before adding:

“If you just launched at someone I think most people would be alarmed.”

Seriously, what is the point of an air kiss? Bar a curtsey, it is the silliest, most theatrical of social greetings and its potential for awkwardness is off the chart. Are you going in for a brisk British single cheek touch, a Continental double, or (most dangerous) a Swiss three-kiss? Are you shaking hands while doing it? Are you simultaneously making the pantomime ‘mwah, mwah’, or indeed ‘mwah, mwah, MWAH’ noises? Anyone who claims to have never accidentally planted a smacker on the face of someone highly inappropriate while negotiating such a greeting, is LYING. C’mon, we’ve all been there. 



Researchers asked more than 1300 men and women from five countries to colour in areas of the human body that they would allow particular people to touch, from their partner to a stranger.

But are handshakes any better than air kisses? I’d rather an accidental peck on the cheek than someone’s cold, limp hand wriggle around in mine. A good, strong handshake that doesn’t linger that beat too long to make you feel awkward is a fine art.


I tend to like a hug. But only if I have met you at least twice previously and if combined with a perfunctory  ‘…ok stop now’ back pat.


A high five has its place (after a spinning class or when greeting a small child).


My favourite is a wave though. It’s friendly and involves zero physical contact. You could always channel Adele and couple it with a cheery ‘HELLO’.  You really can’t go wrong with that.


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